Hey, WIC, let’s force poor women to grow their own vegetables

I have a great idea.

It’s well known that poor children often have poor diets. Food stamps* can be used to buy any type of food; poor mothers often buy processed foods that are cheap and easy to prepare instead of fresh vegetables and fruits that are more nutritious. Here’s my idea: let’s take away food stamps and force poor women to grow their own food. They can set up small plots at community gardens and grow healthful fruits and vegetables. Maybe they can even get a few chickens so their children can have fresh eggs daily and roast chicken for special occasions.

Wait, what? You think that is punitive, vindictive and more likely to result in starving children than in children getting their daily supply of vitamins and minerals? But how can that be? I’m simply copying the WIC policy designed to encourage breastfeeding.

Yes that’s right. WIC has insituted policies that will supposedly discourage formula feeding.

Fully breastfeeding food packages are for mothers and their babies who do not receive formula from WIC and are considered to be breastfeeding exclusively. Mothers and infants may receive this package until the infant is 12 months of age. For mothers, this package provides the largest quantity and variety of foods. For infants, this package provides twice the amount of infant food fruits and vegetables as the package for infants who receive formula, and also provides infant food meat.

So let’s see. If you breastfeed your infant, he or she won’t merely get breast milk. Your baby will actually get extra food: double the amount of fruits and vegetables and he or she will get infant meat. That’ll teach those lazy good-for-nothing mothers; their babies will go hungry.

And that’s not all:

Fully breastfeeding food packages are for mothers and their babies who do not receive formula from WIC and are considered to be breastfeeding exclusively. Mothers and infants may receive this package until the infant is 12 months of age…

Women who are not breastfeeding or only breastfeeding a minimal amount receive a WIC basic food package. Minimally breastfeeding women whose infants greater than 6 months of age receive more formula from WIC than is allowed for a partially breastfeeding infant do not receive a food package.

Not just less food, but NO food for you if you aren’t breastfeeding after 6 months. After all, if you aren’t breastfeeding, you can get a job. Who will care for the baby? That is apparently your problem.

Want to breastfeed and supplement? Too bad for you:

Routine issuance of infant formula in the first month is not authorized to partially breastfeeding mothers to allow the establishment of successful breastfeeding.

By making it harder for new mothers to obtain formula and by rewarding those who breastfeed with extra food allowances, the nice upper middle class, highly educated folks who run WIC plan to increase the breastfeeding rate among WIC mothers.

Of course, a policy of making it more difficult to obtain formula and giving extra benefits to women who breastfeed is probably no more likely to improve conditions for poor children than a policy of forcing their mothers to grow their own food. Why? Because breastfeeding, like growing your own food, is difficult, often painful and very inconvenient. And people who live in poverty, and often have other children, little emotional support and chaotic lives are unlikely to be able to scrape together the emotional and physical resources necessary to do either.

Who are these policies really designed for? They aren’t designed to help poor children since the difficulties they face aren’t going to be ameliorated by beastfeeding. Breastfeeding won’t provide a home for those living in their cars or on the street. Breastfeeding won’t provide food for siblings who are too old to nurse. Breastfeeding won’t improve access to health care or provide better neighborhoods, or reduce parental substance abuse or any of the myriad other difficulties faced by poor children. So who will these policies benefit? Lactivists, of course, by allowing them to pretend that taking things away from poor women burnishes their own reputations as superior mothers.

Who cares that there’s no evidence that these policies work? Lactivists can feel good about such programs whether they increase breastfeeding or not. Who cares whether these policies might inadvertently result in babies being underfed because we’ve made it harder for their mothers to access formula? and baby food. Lactivists can feel good about such programs whether babies thrive or starve. Who cares that no one has even bothered to ask women how they might feel about such programs? Lactivists “know” that there are no legitimate reasons for not breastfeeding, so there’s no point in worrying how formula feeding mothers think and feel.

Wait, what? These policies are not punitive and vindictive because WIC mothers will be able to obtain formula if they really want it? Sure! Just like policies that mandate ultrasounds before abortions aren’t punitive and vindictive since women who really want abortions will be able to get abortions if they really want them.

Since when does a woman’s right to control her own body apply only below the waist? No women, and that includes women who receive public assistance, should have to justify her decision not to breastfeed. Her breasts, her body, her baby: her decison. Why is that so hard for lactivists to understand?

*I originally wrote that WIC benefits can be used to buy any type of food. That is not true; I’ve replace that with food stamps, which can be used to buy processed foods.